Christine Collister,
An Equal Love
(Topic, 2001)

When you have a voice that sounds of aged red wine and a gentle smoke emanating from a warm and cozy fireplace, you pretty much can sing whatever you want to. "Waiting for My Prayer," Christine Collister's original composition that opens her latest release, An Equal Love, issues an invitation to listen complete with bridges and key changes that show off the most of her luscious, sultry voice. Collister, a veteran of the English folk scene, is probably still the most famous for her years with her former partner, Clive Grigson, in the duo Grigson & Collister. However, this album gives her a chance to make a name for herself as a solo artist.

It's a lush album, filled with songs meant for a chanteuse. Collister is a vocalist extraordinaire, and whether she's singing her own songs or performing covers, she makes the music her own. She has such an interpretative take on Sarah McLachlan's "Full of Grace" that I had to pull out my copy of McLachlan's Surfacing to make sure I was thinking of the same song. The distinctive stamp McLachlan places on her compositions makes it difficult for another performer to make her covers unique. While Collister is minus McLachlan's signature high-note twirls, she uses her throat-filled deep notes to full emotional effect.

Despite her success with covers, it's her five own compositions, plus her arrangement of a traditional song, that stand out as the CD's strongest material. "Venus Proud" has a mellow blues feel complete with requisite gospel-inspired keyboards. Add Annie Whitehead's trombone, and it possesses an air of older days long gone by. The programming sometimes seems a bit much, but it basically works on this piece in that it adds to the song's overall atmosphere. It also works well on "Give It Up," another Collister composition, and it blends in nicely with Danny Thompson's double bass and P.J. Wright's acoustic slide guitar on "Extra Care." The programming on her cover of James Murphy's "It's Raining Everyday," on the other hand, can be a mite annoying, and it was nice to hear Danny Thompson's double bass, without any programming whatsoever, on "Full of Grace."

The songs with the least accompaniment allow Collister's voice to steal the show. The a cappella "Motherless Child" brings to mind a slight June Tabor comparison in terms of how both women have smoky voices that wrap themselves around the melody. With only Tom Baeppler's acoustic guitar in the background, Collister has a similar opportunity with her cover of Henry Mancini's "Moon River," the album's closing track.

Although Collister generally is classified as a folk artist, An Equal Love really isn't a typical folk album nor is it the usual singer-songwriter mix; it's filled with torch songs and material that either is an old standard ("Moon River") or sounds as if it could take on that classification in years to come. They're songs for relaxing by, for contemplating, and for giving Collister's voice a strong workout.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 31 August 2002

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